Amedeo Modigliani was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. Born in Livorno (Leghorn), Italy, he was the fourth son of Eugenia Garsin and Flaminio Modigliani. Both the Garsins and the Modiglianis descended from the Sephardic Jews that were expelled from Spain in 1492. In the 20th century Jews in Italy lived in freedom and prosperity. Amedeo’s mother Eugenia at the age of 15 married Flaminio Modigliani and together they moved to Livorno. For several years Flaminio was a successful merchant and a respected banker; the family prospered and enjoyed a period of affluence.
Amedeo’s birth coincided with the disastrous financial collapse of his father’s business, but his birth practically saved the family from ruin: according to an ancient law, creditors couldn’t seize the bed of a pregnant woman or a mother with a newborn child.
Unfortunately the poor baby’s lungs were in such a sad condition that within a few years Amedeo had many close calls with pneumonia, suffered an attack of pleurisy, followed by a case of typhoid fever and by the time he was 16 years old he contracted the tuberculosis that finally would claim his life. He died young at 36.
Amedeo Modigliani’s life was a continuous struggle against poverty and chronic ill health.
Amedeo had a close relationship with his mother, a very talented and well educated woman who taught him at home until he was 10. His mother was also instrumental in his ability to pursue art as a vocation. Amedeo started drawing and painting from a very early age. At 14, since Livorno’s local museum housed only a limited number of paintings by the Italian Renaissance masters, he begged his mother to take him to Florence where he could see the paintings in the Palazzo Pitti and the Uffizi Galleria. The tales he had heard about the great masterpieces held in Florence intrigued him. His mother promised that she would take him to Florence herself, the moment he was recovered from the typhoid fever. His mother not only fulfilled this promise, but convinced of her son potential, enrolled him with the best painting master in Leghorn, Guglielmo Micheli.
With Micheli, Amedeo studied not only landscape, but also portraiture, still life and the nude. In 1901, while in Rome, he became also acquainted with the “Macchiaioli” style by Domenico Morelli, a painter of religious scenes. But Amedeo’s style was not influenced by any of the mentioned styles and themes of 20th century Italian art.Amedeo developed his own style consisting mostly of portraits and elegant nudes with almond eyes, thick red mouths, twisted noses and elongated necks. Through the influence of the Rumanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, he fell under the spell of primitive sculpture, mostly African; but a couple of years later he dropped sculpting and dedicated himself totally to painting.
At age 18 Amedeo enrolled in the Accademia di Belle Arti (Free School of Nude Studies) in Florence and a year later he registered at the Istituto di Belle Arti in Venice. In the city of the romantic lagoon Modigliani frequented the nightlife. After such an experience he was ready for something more innovative and invigorating. He was 22 when he moved to Paris where he met Cezanne, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec and other famous artists. He often visited their studios. The well known artists were rather jealous of him because he was always surrounded by attractive young ladies; in fact Amedeo never had difficulty in finding beautiful models because they willingly posed for him gratis for a chance to look at the handsome painter and to be near him. Soon he joined the “School of Paris” that was composed of a group of 100 plus international artists, mostly Jewish, escaped from their native countries (central and eastern Europe) during the pre-WWII period.
In 1918 Paris was bombarded by the German air force and the School of Paris, including Modigliani, was compelled to move to the South of France, where a few days later, in the city of Nice, Jeanne, the daughter of Amedeo & Jeanne was born.
Modigliani was the typical Latin lover: charming, handsome, irresistible to women. Amedeo had many short-time love affairs but his true love was Jeanne Hebuterne, who soon became his wife. They met in 1916 when Jeanne was 19 and Amedeo 32. They lived together four years until their death, on January 24, 1920. That day Amedeo died of tuberculosis while Jeanne tragically took her life. He was 36, she was 23. Amedeo’s last words were “Cara Italia” (beloved Italy). Although Modigliani spent most of his life in France, his love for Italy never diminished.
A few days ago a friend who lives in Livorno went on a vacation to Paris. There she decided to put a flower on the tomb of her famous “paesano” (fellow countryman) Amedeo Modigliani, who is buried in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery near Paris.
Although at the front office at the entrance she was given a map of the cemetery, she had difficulty in locating Amedeo’s tomb. She passed the mausoleum of Picasso, Max Jacob, Cezanne, La Fontaine, Moliere and finally, almost hidden behind a large pine tree she discovered Amedeo Modigliani’s tomb. On the tomb she laid the long stem rose that she had brought along, she knelt and said a prayer for dear Modi’s Soul.
May his soul rest in peace.